In June 2020, an Instagram account with the username @BlackatFurmanUni was created for the purpose of sharing the experiences of students of color related to racism and discrimination. Within this series of posts, a trend began to emerge; many of the listed bias incidents which involved Furman faculty took place within the music department.
The interim Department of Music chairs of the 2020-2021 academic year, Mark Britt and Hugh Floyd, responded to the Black @ Furman posts in a public statement in the Summer of 2020. This statement expressed distress over the incidents described in the Black @ Furman posts and announced the department’s plan to engage the services of artEquity and form a diversity and equity council. artEquity is a national initiative that works with arts-related organizations and provides resources for them to foster a culture of equity, inclusion, and justice in the arts.
After several months of consultations with artEquity, the Council on Equity and Inclusion in Music was created, and the “Amplify@Furman” CLP series was planned. Additionally, in a later statement for The Paladin, Umstead, Floyd, and Britt indicated accountability for members of the Music Department implicated by Black @ Furman. "When warranted by the results of an investigation," they explained, "personnel actions were taken under the relevant university processes, and those actions included disciplinary sanctions and termination."
Dr. Omar Carmenates, Associate Professor of Percussion, was named Chair of the Council on Equity and Inclusion in Music. In a statement to The Paladin, Carmenates shared his initial reaction to the Black @ Furman account:
“As a faculty member, reading those posts brought about a period of hard reflection as to whether I, or we as a department, were doing enough to create welcoming and equitable environments in our classrooms and performance spaces. The answer was made clear to me…we clearly could and should be doing more.”
According to Carmenates, the council “advises and guides the Furman Music Department leadership on all matters related to diversity, equity, and access within the department’s curriculum, policies, and operations.” The council is comprised of both students and faculty of all ranks. One of the council’s actions that Carmenates is most proud of is the creation of a document that was shared with the faculty of the music department. This departmental guide included recommendations for inclusive pedagogy practices, suggested syllabus language, and provided information regarding helpful workshops and events as well as additional resources.
The council also collaborated with the Furman Humanities Center to host “Amplify@Furman,” a CLP series that highlighted a diverse range of musicians, who spoke to issues of marginalization in their personal experiences and the wider musical world. The council’s initiatives have been hindered to an extent because of the pandemic, but its efforts are still very much ongoing, with new initiatives underway.
The music department has also taken to amending its curriculum. Faculty members have been taking inventories of their courses to expand their repository in lessons, as well as diversify the compositions that are studied in courses on music theory and music history. Additionally, a course called “World Music” was reconstructed to make for a broader and more inclusive perspective.
Carmenates is excited for the future when it comes to the music department and the Council on Equity and Inclusion. The council has been moving forward with anti-racist initiatives that previously were not feasible during the 2020-2021 academic year. The council will “more fully engage with our campus and departmental community” in the upcoming academic year.
The current department chair, Randall Umstead, in tandem with Britt and Floyd, shared a joint statement: “We remain grateful for the opportunity to engage in the hard reflection brought about by the Black @ Furman posts, while also being profoundly regretful for the harm that prompted them.”